While many pile criticism onto New Labour, the list of achievements are actually numerous and impressive.
Oh what a week it has been for the Labour party, with Dame Hodge protesting that the leader of the party is out of touch – during an interview most likely set up by her husband, whose handsome salary we pay for out of her expenses. The duplicitous actions of a large amount of the PLP can be described as petulant, childish and selfish, the last descriptor being particularly apt because it’s probably a big act to cover their pampered bottoms in the post-Chilcot wasteland that will soon appear. The struggle to find someone to challenge Jeremy Corbyn is made more difficult by the fact that most of the presumptive nominees voted to invade Iraq – and as it turns out, backing state-sanctioned terrorism isn’t high on the list of qualities that the Labour membership is looking for in a leader.
After all, Iraq was probably New Labour’s biggest mistake and the fact that the current Labour leader can cast the first stone post-enquiry is scaring a lot of the centre and the right of the party, especially with the overhanging threat of deselection and electoral wipeout. No one likes being fired, and no one likes their reputations to be tarnished, but there is every chance that Chilcott will achieve the latter for most of the New Labour MPs who remain, if not the former.
As we all know – or as those of you who have been listening to left-wing echo chambers and student demonstrations over the last year or so know – New Labour are evil; they were simply Tories in disguise who balk at the idea of Socialism as a political force and try to impose their free-market economics on to an unsuspecting populace who are yearning for a planned economy and the return of a three-day week. Or something to that effect – most Labour members who voted Corbyn are sensible enough to see that he has been a fairly middling leader, steadily plugging along electorally in spite of (often unjustified) opposition from the media and his MPs, all with little help from what appear to be his advisors. (I say “appear to be” because given how Corbyn has proceeded to consistently make gaffes, one could be forgiven for thinking that their advice is a bit naff.)
And there was plenty that New Labour did – and continue to do – wrongly. Iraq (of course), PFI, not restraining the banking industry, undermining their own party members because of a sense of entitlement, and seemingly giving the Tories a free pass to take a sledgehammer to vital services because of this entitlement are just a few of their misdemeanours. There is also the “Kenning” of politics – most politicians now only work in repeatable and inoffensive soundbites, about as interesting as the crotch area of a Ken doll – a technique that has been taken to the limit by Andy Burnham, a man so waxen that he would be rejected from Madame Tussaud’s for appearing too unlifelike. They are also ignoring that fact that a majority of Labour voters (not just members) approve of Corbyn and would vote for him in an election. It’s a shame about the other 70% of the voting population, but they’d hardly be inclined to vote for Liz Kendall or Angela Eagle either.
It’s too easy to kick New Labour in the current political climate, and this low hanging fruit has been picked with gusto by ideological puritans, student politicians and keyboard warriors across the nation. However, when these people pile on the criticisms, they do tend to make some wild assertions, or at least go too far. Whilst I have been highly critical of New Labour in the past (and already several times in this very article) it is incredibly unfair to blame the ills of the left on them. It is also ignorant and historically inaccurate to call them “Red Tories”, or whichever other snappy name is trending on the Twittersphere at the moment.
Lest we forget, Blair and New Labour were revolutionary. First and foremost, they didn’t betray the party membership nor the electorate – they were elected on a “third way” platform that combined the social ethos of the left with a “dynamic” libertarian economic policy. The Peter Mandelson statement that described New Labour as “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” is often referenced without the second, more important part: “as long as they pay their taxes”. Social justice is the main thread that holds together the Labour party, regardless of allegiances to Trots or Fabians, and there is no doubt New Labour maintained that ethos.
The list of achievements is numerous and impressive, especially after the torrid Thatcher and Major years. Whilst it is hard to counter the horror that Iraq unleashed, securing peace in Northern Ireland and intervening to prevent genocide in Kosovo and Sierra Leone is probably a good start. As was writing off the vast majority of debts owed to the UK by developing nations. Devolution was also a key New Labour policy with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all benefiting from greater autonomy. There was also the introduction of a minimum wage; doubling pupil funding; achieving one of the highest employment rates ever seen; restoring city-wide government to London and allowing it to flourish as one of the world’s most successful cities; exceeding the greenhouse emission reduction target set by the Kyoto agreement; scrapping Section 28; introducing civil partnerships and banning fox hunting.
When you get on to what New Labour achieved for the poorest in society, you also see how fragile the arguments against them are. Millions of pensioners and children were lifted out of poverty (and not by redefining poverty as the current administration has done); tax credits were introduced to help aspiring families; over a million social homes were brought up to standard; free bus travel and TV licenses were provided for pensioners; the amount of apprenticeships was doubled; youth unemployment was cut by over 3/4; free nursery places for all 3 and 4 year olds were delivered; over 2,000 Sure Start centres were opened; the migration impact fund was established (something that was cut straight away by the coalition, the consequences of which can be seen by that big old vote we had last week); child benefit payments were increased by 25%; paternity leave was introduced and so on.
This is obviously not to say that there were no problems with New Labour – far from it. But those achievements speak for themselves – and the list above still does not do justice to the number of excellent things achieved under New Labour. Like the BBC, the demonisation of Blair and Brown has come from both the right and the left – a fact that showcases they were pretty centre-ish. People are determined to morph history to fit their narrative, discarding the evidence that doesn’t suit them and cherry picking other factors that do. Blair’s famous mantra was “Education, education, education” – it’s a shame that those bad-mouthing New Labour didn’t listen and seem intent on spreading the misinformation.